Managing MULTI-BRAND Brand Protection Programs

Michael DeStefano
A-CAPP Center Industry Fellow and Former Director, Anti-Counterfeiting Risk and Management at DuPont

Your company has 10, 20, maybe 200 brands: what do you protect first?

You get the phone call: Customs agents have inspected a crate that has one of your products, which they suspect is counterfeit.  The problem is, it was one of your products from 5 years ago, and you have no resources to investigate.

Now what…

We deal with risk every day, and with every brand.  But if you have multiple brands, where do you put your time, money and effort to yield the biggest impact? And what “impact” are you seeking?

Multi-brand protection programs are most at risk of shorting some of their brands of protection, especially if counterfeits of those brands do not pose a threat to the environment or human health. Yet such counterfeits may still impact company reputation and certainly illicit goods may appear in the marketplace and cause customer service nightmares.

One clear way to elevate acknowledgment of the risks most important to your company and its stakeholders is to develop a risk-based plan as you move forward with your brand protection program.  It’s easy to say, “If it impacts human health, then that is the priority.” But what if it impacts your bottom-line and does not pose an obvious threat to human health or the environment?  Then where do you start?

One place to start may be your company’s core values. They may include protecting the customer, protecting the employee, and providing the product at the cheapest price and highest quality. You can start your risk-based approach there: what has the biggest impact to the brand, to the customer?

Many brand protection risk assessments or brand prioritization programs may have some elaborate formula that is generated from market impact studies, Customs seizure numbers, or even consumer feedback.  Use all the data, but do not make the approach too difficult to manage. Start small. Pose simple internal questions, such as:

  • What is the most popular brand name in your business this year? What will be the most popular brand in coming years? Most importantly, how do you know this and – yes – its data.
  • What type of counterfeiting have you seen in the marketplace? Among your 200 brands, which ones could cause the most harm if counterfeited (again, as determined by data)?
  • If you narrowed down your 200 brands to a priority of 10, how and why did you do that?  A simple gut-feeling answer, or even Customs organizations’ actions, will not support your funding requirements.
  • What are you doing today that has no value with your selected 10 brands?
  • What happens if your brand number 50 is suddenly impacted—what is your plan B?  How do you pivot without dropping the ball on your major brands?

Without data, business support, and direction, funding, time and energy can be wasted.

In my previous assignment, I had a case where no one suspected that the subject product would be counterfeited. It was but one product for one of 200 DuPont brands—a pet disinfectant that was grossing only about $2 million annually at the time and whose counterfeiting posed no threat to the environment or human health. At the time we learned of this product being counterfeited, I was working on a high-profile case regarding a DuPont brand with products that were grossing more than $1 billion per year worldwide. Yet the counterfeiting of the pet-product brand had a devastating impact, resulting in a regional drop of sales of more than 25 percent.

So, what was the right answer?  Drop everything, including the high profile case, and work with the business and get a solution for the lower-priority pet disinfectant for animal health? Teach the business the tools to use to handle the problem with my oversight? Ignore the whole thing and wish it away? 

Teach the business the tools, and help where I could.  That is the course I chose.  No one had the money to start a full investigation for this brand, and the data did not show a great impact on the overall corporation’s bottom line. But a risk that sometimes goes overlooked can still affect reputation in the market and with consumers.

As painful as it may be, you should evaluate each brand in your portfolio and their products to determine the level of effort that should be expended to protect them. No matter how small the brand, perform this evaluation so you can be ready for that phone call and already have an idea of the brand’s priority. A detailed evaluation should include supply chain assessment and auditing, market data (buys), competition evaluation (who are your biggest competitors for each of the products/brands in your market or region), health and safety aspects, and finally, profitability of that product/brand. The data you collect will help you with your total evaluation and to prioritize your resources.  The hard truth is resources are limited, so you must choose your battles and the level of protection you can expend to protect the multiple brands in your portfolio.    Unless the phone call comes from the C-Suite and then, you will be given your priority…